An agricultural soil was amended with sewage sludge at rates equivalent to 0, 10 and 30 t (dry solids) ha(-1) and the subsequent transfer of zinc and cadmium through a soil-plant-arthropod system was investigated. Zinc concentration in soil, wheat and aphids increased significantly with sludge amendment rate. Zinc was biomagnified during transfer along the pathway, resulting in concentrations in the aphids four times greater than in the soil. Cadmium concentration in the soil was also significantly elevated by the addition of sludge, but there was no significant difference in cadmium concentration in the shoots of wheat plants. Cadmium concentration in aphids followed the pattern found in plants, but again, differences between treatments were not significant. Aphids collected from the plants were subsequently fed to fourth instar Coccinella septempunctata. Consumption of these aphids did not result in significant differences between treatments in the body burden of newly emerged adult C. septempunctata for either metal. Sequestration of cadmium in the pupal exuviae had a greater effect on the body burden of newly emerged adult ladybirds than for zinc. Results are discussed in relation to possible risks posed by the transfer of trace metals via the soil-plant-arthropod system to predatory arthropods. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.